Filling a need: Regional Food Bank celebrates 25 years

Since its meager beginnings in the early 1980s, the Northeast Regional Food Bank has grown in leaps and bounds.

But the task of dealing with an ever-increasing number of people depending upon its services continue.

On Tuesday, June 5, National Hunger Day, the organization celebrated 25 years in the business of distributing tens of millions in pounds of foods to 1,000 food pantries and kitchens to 23 counties in the state.

It hasn't always been the case, said Mark Quandt Regional Food Bank executive director.

In the first year we were serving 60 agencies in six counties. Then (1983) we provided about 400,000 pounds of food; this last year 19.6 million pounds of food, said Quandt.

Quandt joined the food bank in 1983, a year after it opened in downtown Albany.

In 1983, Quandt came on as the second staff person under then executive director Laurie Cox. Operating out of a small downtown space, made available through former Albany Mayor Erastus Corning, the food bank had a handful of volunteers, little money, no office equipment and one phone line without call waiting, joked Quandt.

In its early stages, the food bank operated through a grant through Christians United in Mission, which has since dissolved. The driving force behind the food bank was a small group of people that had worked, like Cox, in larger cities that desperately needed the services of a food bank to assist in the distribution of foods to pantries, shelters and soup kitchens, said Quandt. It began with an annual operational budget under $50,000 and has since grown to $3.6 million.

From within the confines of its small Albany offices, the food bank began to gather steam under Quandt. Its name got out there, and before the small group had realized what was happening, Freihofer's was dropping off loaves of bread and more than food bank staff knew what to do with, said Quandt.

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